Not long ago, I quit my job as a lawyer. It’s the only job I ever had, and the only thing I’ve been formally trained to do. But after sixteen years of doing it, my life hit a brick wall. In the previous six months, I had been sick two out of every five working days, and on any given day, I struggled to get out of bed. I was depressed, miserable, and on the verge of suicide. I was faced with a stark choice: keep on doing what I was doing and die, or live and do something else.
Today, after a long period of hard healing, my depression is back in remission, I’m happier than ever and I feel stronger than I’ve ever been. My marriage is stronger, and I take new delight in my kids and new enjoyment from my hobbies. Best of all, I have broken free of the law. During this process, I realized that my new calling is to take all the valuable skills I have learned during this process, as well as all the new experiences I am accumulating as I continue my transition and leverage them to help you—a frustrated lawyer in need of a change—to make your own.
If you’re like me, the change you are contemplating is a matter of life or death. Law does have more than its fair share of occupational hazards, and more than a few people find themselves in a similar place. But your circumstances don’t have to be that extreme to want to make a change. Maybe you’re bored practicing law. Maybe you’re stressed out and want more piece of mind. Perhaps you’re tired of the long hours and want more time for your family, friends and hobbies. Maybe you want to be more fulfilled. Maybe you’re just tired of arguing and fighting all the time. Whatever your reasons, and wherever you are on your journey, I’m here to empathize with your struggles, advise you as best I can, and most of all help you reinvent yourself, redesign your life and pursue your dreams. As I’m still very much a work in progress, I know firsthand how hard transitioning out of the legal profession can be, so I’ll be continuing to document my journey and we can all learn along the way.
PHI BETA SLACKER
I am what author Po Bronson would call a Phi Beta Slacker. Meaning, I’m either the laziest industrious person you’ve ever met, or the most industrious lazy person you’ve ever met. I never set about life with a vision, but I have always tried to do my best at whatever I’m doing. That’s how I became a lawyer.
I went to college at the University of Michigan, where I majored in English literature. I majored in English literature not because I was dying to study English literature, but because it was the degree most acceptable to my parents that didn’t involve any of the sort of things that we today call STEM, but in those days just called science and math. But I scored well and graduated with honors because, well, that’s just what I do. (Incidentally, I didn’t do all the reading. I once got an “A” on a blue book exam where I wrote an entire essay on the Fairie Queen, based just on what I learned about it in the lectures, though I never bothered to read the poem. Sadly, that’s just one instance of many).
Impressive sounding degree in hand, now I had to figure out what to do for a living. Problem was, I didn’t want to earn a living. Not even a little, not at all. So I applied to a bunch of law schools because, hey more school–I can handle that. One of the schools I applied to was the University of Texas. I didn’t get in initially, but they put me on a wait-list and my number came up and I was accepted to the class of 2001 in the middle of the summer of 1998. It was my most exciting option. I’d never been to Texas and knew nothing about the place. So I set out for Austin.
Austin turned out to be a problem. U-T is a great law school, so I’m told. But Austin is the live music capital of the world, and what with the fantastic nightlife, great restaurants, beautiful surroundings and subtropical weather, I didn’t get quite as much studying done as I should have. Still, I did passably well. Not well enough to get a job on Wall Street, at least not initially, so I decided to look for a job in the public sector. I had two offers, one from a D.A.’s office in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, and one from the U.S. Air Force JAG Corps; a thing I scarcely knew existed at the time, but learned about from a couple of nice guys wearing uniforms at a school job fair. I decided to become a JAG because it sounded cooler to me.
And it was cool. My first base was in a resort community in northwest Florida so sun, surf, night clubs, golf. Not a bad life at all. And I enjoyed the work I was doing. And then the Air Force assigned me to Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery Alabama, which didn’t have any of those things. But it did have the girl of my dreams (we’ll call her “T”) T and I started dating, fell in love and decided to get married.
I probably could have had a good life just kicking about the Air Force and being in love with T, but T was an Army brat who had lived all over the world and wanted to settle down. So after five years in the JAG corps, I took a job with a New York law firm, again because the opportunity was right in front of me for the taking, and we settled in. I worked hard, got promoted to a shareholder position at the firm, we bought a home and had two kids. I have no regrets about any of this, but in retrospect I wish I had seen the need to stop before I got depressed.
So I call myself myself a Phi Beta slacker because while I always worked hard, and always did well, I was lazy with the most important question: what do I really want to do? That’s a hard question, and I didn’t want to answer it. So I didn’t answer it. Which in a way is weird, because I certainly applied myself to doing everything I could to avoid answering it. I applied myself to answering what type of person I wanted to spend my life with. I even applied myself to the process of my personal care and grooming Those are all hard tasks, but I took them on to my unending satisfaction. So why didn’t I take on the job question? I don’t know. What I do know was that I was a good student who didn’t really care about what I was studying so long as I put up good marks. I majored in English because it was there. I went to law school because it was the easiest way to avoid making a choice. I became a JAG because it sounded cool, and I took my last job because it paid well and seemed like the next logical step.
I put the question of what I really wanted to do off over and over and I kept settling for jobs I only sort of wanted because they seemed like quick fixes, the pay was good, and, at least for a while I was comfortable. But the hard question never went away, I just kept deferring it. And the result was that I ended up in a profession I never loved, grew not to even like, and eventually grew to detest.
LIFE AFTER LAW
If I could give 21 year old me one piece of advice it would be to approach your career the same way you approach your love life. I didn’t settle in love, and ended up with a happy marriage and a beautiful family. I think I could have gotten the same fulfillment out of my career if I had really thought about my goals and fought hard to pursue them.
I don’t want you to make that mistake. In fact, I want to personally do everything I can to help you avoid it. And if you have made that mistake and found yourself in a place you don’t want to be, I want to do all I can to help you make a course correction. Foremost, I want to help you by documenting my journey, which I hope will show you how I reset my life, and how worth the effort it ultimately was. But as a seasoned counselor, active listener, adept writer and creative problem solver, I also want to directly help you transform your life.
MY GOALS—AND YOURS
I’m eager to share with you all I have learned about how to transition out of the law, including how I overcame my doubts, how I avoided being discouraged by well-meaning friends and loved ones, how I set myself up for financial autonomy in the short term, so I could make my next step on my timetable, how I continue to cope with the many occupational hazards that lawyers face, and tons more.
But more importantly, I’m excited to serve as a direct resource for you. Whether you have a comment, a question, or just want to use me as a sounding board, I’m here for you. I’ll respond directly as often as I can, and in some cases, I may make an issue you raise a subject of a blog post. So please give me all the comments and feedback you care to right here, and feel free to contact me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org
All the best,